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Archive for June, 2008

Barry Bonds?

It has recently come to my attention that Barry Bonds has offered himself to every team in baseball, and says he will play for the minimum salary. Pro-rated $390K. Every team in baseball turned him down.

And he offered to donate that entire salary to purchase tickets for kids, so they can watch the games. It’s good to see that someone is thinking of the children!

Of course, I smell a rat here. It was his agent who made these offers, not Bonds himself. His agent is trying to build a collusion case against the MLB, claiming that the owners and GMs have been told by the league not to sign Bonds. By offering Bonds to every team at the minimum, it invalidates the “Well, he’s not really worth all that money any more” argument.

Whatever. Good for him. A sports agent is a weaselly lawyer type. What a shocker.

BUT! What if the offer, even if it has such an obvious ulterior motive, were for real? What if some team that would love to upgrade its offense, perhaps the Twins, signed Bonds for the minimum?

Case for Bonds joining the Twins: He walked 134 times last season, and homered 28 times. He’s an imposing middle of the lineup hitter and terrifies pitchers even if they’re left handed. The right field fence at the Dome isn’t very far away. His range in LF isn’t much worse than Young’s, and he wouldn’t foolishly try to dive/slide for balls that he should just catch on the bounce. He could DH, which might keep him fresher. We could DFA/drown Craig Monroe and/or Mike Lamb. Barry Bonds is F’ing good at hitting baseballs. It’s pretty much free.

That’s a pretty long list, but …

Case against Bonds joining the Twins: There’s no guarantee that he can keep this production up, at age 44, without the use of steroids. He’s a monumental douche, who could upset the good clubhouse vibe going on with the Twins right now (seriously, these guys are starting to gel). There isn’t enough lycra/polyester in Minnesota to make his hat. I still don’t advocate benching Young, even if his replacement is one of the best hitters of all time, since Young needs ABs to improve. I’m a big fan of Kubel and think he should be the every day DH — Kubel could hit another 15 HR this year … what could Bonds hit? 20? Also … there’d be a huge media/fan backlash against the team. And Selig might come and take the team away from Pohlad, sell it to his dog, and contract the team, giving Mauer to the Brewers.

I guess it all comes down to this: Do you think Barry Bonds can help the team win baseball games? And if so, are those wins worth the obvious distraction it’ll cause among the team, the fans, and the media?

I try not to judge players based on what they do off the field. So I don’t care that Bonds is a big asshole. But I do appreciate what the Twins have going, non-asshole-wise.

I’m really not happy about the steroids thing. I continue to cross my fingers and (naively?) hope that none of the good players on the Twins are steroid-built. (No, Rondell White doesn’t count.)

I’m high on Delmon Young and Jason Kubel, and I want them both to play as much as possible.

Those are my reasons the Twins shouldn’t sign Bonds.

(By the way Joe Posnanski thinks the Royals SHOULD.)


Putting Lamb’s Numbers Into New Light

Since Buscher took over the third base job from Lamb, the offense has looked better and the team has been winning. This basically validates my claims over the offseason that the Twins don’t need a slew of new stars, they just need to upgrade to average production in a few of the worse spots in the lineup to complement the Mauer/Morneau core.

But Buscher’s hitting isn’t what I want to talk about today. Rather, it’s Lamb’s lack of it. Coming into the season, Lamb showed some promise as a guy who could produce a reasonable facsimile of 3B Numbers. He was coming off a few years of hitting 10-12 HR in half a season’s worth of ABs, and the hope was that the added consistency of playing every day would make a difference for him.

Instead … crater. Black hole. The same production as we’d get from Nick Punto, except that Lamb can’t pretend to be good in the field.

What happened?

His line drive percentage is 16.7%, down from his career rate of 20.5%. Following this, his BABIP is down to .253. His HR/FB rate is just 1.2%, down from 10.6% last year. (Juan Pierre’s career HR/FB is 1.2%.) And 11.6% of his balls in play are infield popups.

He’s also seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance, 3.5 vs his typical 3.9-4.1 .

Decreased HR/FB is an indication that a player’s bat speed is decreasing; decreased pitches per PA is indicative of lost discipline or plate vision, and may account for the ugliness of his balls-in-play data: he’s swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone, and making weaker contact when he does manage to put the bat on the ball.

The same is true of both Gomez and Young, who are among the league leaders in “swinging at balls out of the strike zone,” and Young’s power/discipline numbers are also worse than expected. What is happening with these new acquisitions?

I don’t have any real answers, but my guess is that other teams have this thing called “batting practice,” where the players “practice hitting baseballs.” The Twins very cutely hold infield practice where they practice the fundamentals of fielding a grounder and throwing it to first base. So when we bring in players from other teams, they stop being able to hit because they don’t get to practice any more, they’re stuck in a lineup of similarly undisciplined and weak hitters which further drives down their performance, and then the manager gets mad at them because they’re bored with doing the same drill that their 8 year old son learned in little league two weeks ago.

It’s not Lamb’s fault that we signed him. It’s not Lamb’s fault that he got so much playing time to “prove” that he could live up to his “track record.” I would have thought that the “inability to perform at even minimal levels” would have been his fault, but I’m not so sure any more. It’s quite possible that Gardenhire just isn’t doing anything to help his players hit.

I ask again … what exactly do the Twins do in practice? Because it’s not translating onto the field.


Punto Discovers His Role

It appears that Punto’s time off has been good for him. He has taken a step back and gotten some perspective on his actual role with the team.

So, now that he’s back, what is that role?

“We’re playing pretty good. I’ll just sit there and try to stay out of it,” Punto said. “I’m a hand-shaker tonight.” (Near the bottom.)
Excellent. Punto finally understands that his role on this team is not to play, but to hide in a corner and let the other players play. And then shake their hands after they win.

This may be the best thing Punto has ever said or done in his entire career.


What Upgrades Does the Roster Need?

Souhan “writes” that the Twins’ front office should act now, as rashly as possible in an uncharacteristic fit of short term thinking, to bolster the surprisingly successful roster and make a run at the playoffs despite the fact that this is a rebuilding year.

The first thing I’d like to do is address the setup of his article. Number one, acting rashly is rarely a good idea; isn’t that a main criticism of the New York teams? Number two, surprising? Really? The Twins are 40-36, surging over .500 on the wings of a solid winning streak. They’ve been lurking within a few games of .500 all season. Before the season, they looked a lot like a .500 ballclub with a lot of youth. During the season, they look like a .500 ballclub with a lot of youth. What about this is surprising, exactly? Number three … what exactly can we do to upgrade at the trade deadline? Are there going to be teams unloading a good-hitting major league shortstop? Do we want to empty the entire farm system for the rights to 2 months of a good starting pitcher? What kind of deal is on the market that would clearly help the team this season, and hopefully not destroy our chances for the future? Can Souhan possibly know this?

That brings me to the second thing I’d like to do. Which is go over his recommendations to the Twins’ front office. His sure-fire plan for improving the team. The proven, veteran players that will push this team over the hump and assure a playoff berth. Enough hype, already, let’s get to the plan!

Step one: Somehow cancel the Rays trade, and get Garza and Bartlett back.

Reasons this is stupid: Um, you can’t do that. So … that’s pretty dumb.

Step two: Trade or release Mike Lamb.

Reasons this is stupid: Actually, it isn’t. Lamb should go.

Step three: Bench Delmon Young and call up Denard Span.

Reasons this is stupid: Delmon Young has a lot of talent, despite the fact that he’s not using it. He looks increasingly confused by breaking balls out of the strike zone, as if the pitchers should realize that he can’t hit them and should simply stop throwing them. He doesn’t hustle in the field at all. (Have you noticed that he’s about 100 times faster on the bases than in the field? Is his glove that heavy?) It appears that the only reason he’s willing to wear a glove is as an excuse to throw the ball as far as he can, regardless of game situation … or whether he even has the ball (see Sunday, vs Diamondbacks). The point is, Delmon has the tools and should be given the chance to hone them. Find the key to the toolbox, as it were. The other point is … Denard Span? Sure, he has a 900 OPS in AAA this year, and has recovered admirably from his injury. The game he plays on the field is finally starting to match the game he talks. But Span has never done anything good before, so why are a couple months so impressive? (Of course, it’s possible that he’s turned the corner, as Buscher seems to have done. Come back in a year, and if Span is still hitting like this then we’ve got another outfielder on our hands. If not, then it was a good thing we didn’t act rashly, no?)

I can’t help myself …

Seriously? Denard F’ing Span?

Step four: Get Nick Punto back and bench Brendan Harris at SS.

Reasons this is stupid: Nick Punto is not a starting position player, he’s a utility infielder. If he’s playing regularly, it means your starters are either hurt or not performing. Brendan Harris isn’t a wizard in the field (although neither is Punto, if you want to be honest about it), but he has a strong arm and can turn a double play (anyone who’s seen Punto try to throw the ball knows he’s more comfortable playing with the girls on the 60 foot basepaths). Harris has been mired in a bad stretch at the plate, but shows signs of knowing what he’s doing — and he might be turning it around. He’s clearly better than Nick Punto, though, who I’ve decided to describe offensively as “a lot like Mike Lamb, except with head first slides into first base.” (If Lamb ever slides into first base, I’m quite certain he will morph into Punto and the two of them will dance with glee as the space time continuum explodes.)

Step five: Have Brendan Harris be the utility infielder and part time third baseman, taking at bats away from Brian Buscher.

Reasons this is stupid: Harris should be the starting SS. But if he isn’t, deliberately taking at bats away from the hottest player on the team is pretty boneheaded. Maybe this step of the plan should be “stay the course and be happy that someone finally realized that calling up Buscher and sticking him in the lineup is a good idea.”

Step six … there is no step six. That’s it. This is what the front office should do to put the Twins into the playoffs. Mess with promising young bats (Young and Buscher) by jerking around their playing time. Promote inferior players based on having a hot bat in the minors. Give Nick Punto more playing time.

I’ll give Souhan credit for not saying something truly, monumentally boneheaded like “trade for Griffey” or “trade for Sabathia” or any other hugely overpriced Rent-A-Player. However, demanding that the front office make key moves and then pointing out a few places to clearly downgrade the team doesn’t make any sense — Souhan gets no credit for that. At best. Does negative credit exist?

I will also give Souhan absolutely zero credit for ignoring the pitching staff. Livan has pitched as expected, some of the young guys are stepping up, some are regressing, the bullpen is overtaxed, and we have far more young starters than a team can use. Do we trade some of them away for upgrades? Do we cycle them through the rotation and see who sticks? Do we transition some of them to the bullpen? Is it important to address the pitching situation at all when trying to shoot for the moon? Does Souhan care about pitching, given that it’s not something that Nick Punto “can” do?

Finally … I’ll end with a question. What does this team actually need? Right now, and in the next 2-3 years.

Third base? Maybe … but Buscher sure looks good and Valencia will be able to replace him in a few years. The fact that Buscher is 27 is virtually irrelevant because of Valencia — by the time Buscher hits 30, we just let him go and replace him with promising youngster No. 203995.

Shortstop? Yes. Harris is not the answer, nor is Nick Punto or Adam Everett. Casilla might be, but that leaves a gaping hole at 2B, and if Casilla gets comfortable at 2B he should stay there. This team needs a shortstop … too bad they’re hard to find. Plouffe is the closest thing to a SS in the system, and nobody is really sold on him, as far as I can tell.

Second base? No. Casilla. He’s good, end of story.

First base? Heh, no. Morneau is Hrbek.

Catcher? No. Enough said.

Center field? No. Gomez will be here for a while and will continue to improve. All Star in 2010.

Left field? Probably not, assuming Delmon remembers how to hit a baseball.

Right field? A big fat maybe … but not soon. Cuddyer’s 29, and will be 32 when his contract expires. I really like the guy, and I think he’s a solid player both offensively and defensively and is definitely a good clubhouse leader. But if we don’t want to re-sign him in 3 years, we should have guys knocking on the door, like Parmelee, Benson, Revere, possibly Hicks, possibly someone we don’t even know about yet (which is how baseball works a lot of the time). The point is that our outfield is locked down with good players long enough for the next batch to be ready. It doesn’t need an upgrade.

Bench? Monroe, Lamb, Punto, Redmond. Not really a bad bench. Redmond’s a good backup catcher, Punto’s valuable as a utility guy, Monroe and Lamb are theoretically good “bats off the bench” (if, that is, they decided to hit). This bench is a huge upgrade over years past (hmm, we need a late inning homer, who do we pinch hit … Tyner or Luis Rodriguez?). But it could always get better.

Pitching? You can always use more pitching, but … Baker, Slowey, Blackburn, Perkins, Duensing, Humber, Liriano, Boof, Mulvey, Swarzak, Manship, Guerra, etc. This team has solid pitching depth at the major league level and all the way down the farm system. Trading for more arms isn’t really necessary.

All that said, it would obviously be nice to upgrade to a better player at every position. Texeira over Morneau, Soto over Mauer, Utley over Casilla, Hanley over Harris, etc all down the lineup. But it’s not going to happen. What upgrades can this team realistically want to make?

I think this is a good roster, and the only real weak spot is at SS. Plus, the players should get better as the years go on, and we get closer to replacing them with cheaper, faster, more talented young players, as we always do.

The front office should not, as Souhan demands, think for the present and make ill-advised moves. They should also not, as Souhan suggests, give bad players playing time at the expense of good players. What they should do is always be on the lookout for a good deal, be ready to cut bait on someone before it’s too late, and tell Gardenhire to play the best players, for crap’s sake. (Kind of, you know, the opposite of what Souhan said.)

Go Twins.


The 3B Platoon: Better Late Than Never

During Spring Training, it was my opinion that Brian Buscher should have come north with the club and been the starting third baseman. A March slump combined with the presence of Mike Lamb’s Contract to ship Buscher off to Rochester, leaving us to endure Lamb’s .224/.263/.302 performance at the plate for a few months.

A 27 year old with suspect defensive ability and a poor minor league track record, Buscher never got much love from the stat communities. He began his career by posting a .630 OPS in low-A ball, followed by a .772 in high-A, and a .714 in AA. Those simply aren’t good numbers, especially from a corner infielder. But since joining the Twins in 2007, Buscher has done nothing but hit: he’s now got a .908 OPS in 93 total games at AAA split over two seasons, showing respectable discipline and power.

He was recently called up to splt a 3B platoon with Matt Macri, in replacement of Lamb’s abysmal performance — and has continued to hit, though his discipline and power haven’t found there way from Rochester just yet. He’s also played a role in the Twins’ recent streak of scoring a few runs — he’s driven in 8 runs and scored 4 of his own in just 8 games since being called up.

The other half of the platoon, Macri, has shown even more with the bat, hitting .367/.406/.500 in his 14 games. These two players combining to absolutely crush Lamb’s performance is a definite boost for the offense, and the Twins should start seriously thinking about seeing what they can get for Mike Lamb in a trade. It won’t be much — but at least he’ll be off the roster and we won’t have to pay him to imitate a large Nick Punto.

This performance should be working to cement Buscher and Macri on the roster, but it’s yet to be seen if it will. Gardenhire famously dislikes players who show any sign of having talent — and his middling showing in the minors continues to hurt them. But I’m not so sure it should. Should the possibility that players can learn and improve be completely ignored?

Frankly, I’m glad to see both Buscher and Macri getting at bats, and I’m glad to see them both hitting well; I hope it continues. I wonder, though … did Mike Lamb’s proven mediocrity really warrant waiting until mid-June to make this change? His career 93 OPS+ isn’t exactly the kind of thing that really stands out among third basemen.

This platoon should have started much earlier.


The Boof Conundrum

In his first relief appearance I thought, “Man, maybe Boof has actually turned a corner and can thrive in a middle-long relief role”.  I was wrong.  He continues to look lost on the mound.  This makes me sad because I’ve always liked him, but it seems we must face the cold, cruel dawn and realize that maybe he just isn’t going to thrive as a big league pitcher.  Could he pitch while down the line for a different team? Probably.  When Liriano comes back later this summer, I think the twins need to do one of two things: Cut Livan or Cut Boof.  Boof has more upside, and Livan isn’t going to be on the team next year anyway, so that seems like the logical choice.  I was hoping he would pitch well until the end of summer and we could trade him at the deadline for more than a bucket of baseballs, but sadly that is about all he is worth now.  I would rather keep Boof than Livan, but one of them will most likely be out when Liriano eventually returns. Another reason Livan makes sense is because we have to essentially make two roster moves. 1)Take a guy off the 25 man roster, and 2) Remove a guy from the rotation. If we get rid of Livan that kills two birds with one stone so to speak. Cutting Livan is even more essential if we fall out of the playoff race before the deadline. What is the point of having a terrible pitcher on the team who isn’t part of the future plans.  I know Gardy likes having guys with “veteran” status, but who really cares.  Sometimes I think Gardy would take a bad veteran over a good inexperienced guy. I hope that isn’t true, but he could prove it is later this summer by keeping Livan when everyone knows he shouldn’t.  The way I see it, the guys who are most likely to be sent down (or cut) when Liriano comes back are the following: 

  1. Livan
  2. Boof
  3. Brian Bass
  4. Breslow
  5. Bobby Korecky
That is in no particular order, but its pretty close to most to least likely. Korecky and Breslow have been quite effective, Bass has been forgettable but not terrible, and the first two have been pretty close to terrible. The reason I have limited it to pitchers is because the team seems set to have 12 pitchers. Also, with Nick Punto due back soon, I assume that Buscher will be the casuality when he comes back. If anyone has more creative method of shuffling the roster in the coming weeks/monhts, please, share.


The Worst Defense in the AL?

Today’s Baseball Prospectus newsletter just arrived, and pointed out the following statistic:

Bottom 5 AL Team Defenses, by Defensive Efficiency


Minnesota Twins, .683 Seattle Mariners, .684 Texas Rangers, .684 New York Yankees, .696 Kansas City Royals, .698

That’s defensive efficiency, and the Twins are the worst in the American League. This from an organization that has historically keyed on excellent defense.

The Rangers and Yankees have powerful offenses and are built to outscore their opponents, so their defensive woes are “part of the plan” and aren’t that big a deal to them. The Mariners and Royals are the worst two teams in the AL.

That leaves the Twins, with a worse defense than all of them, an offense that isn’t built to outscore anyone, and a pitching staff that pitches to contact rather than trying to strike people out.

It’s not a recipe for winning ballgames, and the current 6 game losing streak is testament to that.

The problem, in large part, is the new faces. The ones that didn’t come up through the Twins system, taught to value defense over all else. Delmon Young, Mike Lamb, Brendan Harris … they were brought in to upgrade the offense while admittedly sacrificing defense. I don’t disagree with the decision — the offense definitely needed to be upgraded.

The issue is that their defense is worse than expected, and their offense is worse than what we were getting from those positions last year.

Delmon Young 2008: .266/.315/.357 (OPS: 672) Jason Tyner 2007: .281/.331/.355 (OPS: 686)

Mike Lamb 2008: .228/.267/.310 (OPS: 577) Nick Punto 2007: .210/.291/.271 (OPS: 562)

Brendan Harris 2008: .245/.314/.320 (OPS: 634) Jason Bartlett 2007: .265/.339/.361 (OPS: 700)

Each of these players is a significant downgrade defensively from their predecessor, AND a downgrade offensively. (And no, the fact that Mike Lamb’s OPS is 15 points higher than Punto2007 does NOT impress me. Note that Lamb is the biggest position player free agent signing in the history of the Minnesota Twins. He should be able to hit considerably better than the WORST PLAYER IN BASEBALL.)

More than anything else, this abysmal defensive efficiency rating — coupled with the fact that the worst transgressors also happen to be dragging down the offense more than the anemic ass bats they replaced — is a reason to be worried about this team. Without defense, offense, OR pitching, how can we be expected to compete with anyone?


Twins 7, O’s 5

Nice little win the team put together last night.  Perkins looked pretty terrible but somehow managed to only give up five runs in five innings. The way they were hitting the ball I thought it would be seven or eight.  Boof’s 2 2/3 shutout innings were huge because he came out firing strikes and the offense could rest easy that they wouldn’t be down by more than five the next time they came up. 

I really like wins like this. Where the team chips away at a defecit. Nothing fancy, not a grand slam, or all the runs in one inning. We stopped the bleeding early, and for the second half of the game we had the O’s right where we want them.  (Sidenote: Why are they called the O’s? Is that an acceptable nickname for an Oriole? Why aren’t the Twins called the “T’s” or the Yankees the “Y’s”. Same goes for the Celtics being called the “C’s”. Is this laziness, lack of creativity or both.) Back to the game. Getting two runs back in the second was huge too, because it showed we weren’t going to roll over and die for Cabrera kind of like we did for Liz the previous night.

Great showing for the ‘pen, nothing like 4 guys (thats 4 if you count Reyes as a full person) combining for 5 shuout innings with only 2 baserunners.  I was shocked at how easily Boof was getting guys out after every ball hit when Slowey pitched was hit really hard.  I think Boof will thrive as a middle reliever, he doesn’t seem to have the mental makeup or the stamina to be a starting pitcher.  He proved last night he can probably still get guys out, which I like because I have always liked Boof, even when he was terrible. I think that is probably because I am just fresh out of hatred after using it all on Nick Punto. 

Good to see Mauer hit another moonshot last night. Can we call them moonshots in the dome since we are inside, and we can’t see the moon so therefore can’t judge if the ball is headed that way? Whatever. I remember saying earlier in the year that the only time Mauer pulls the ball is when he grounds out to the second baseman. Have teams not realized that he hits lefties better than righties? Because he does.

Today we have Scott Baker going at noon. Should be a productive day at work.


Mauer: It’s About Time

Last night, Mauer hit his first home run of the season. He took a four seam fastball off the inside corner of the plate and turned on it, smashing it against the upper deck in right field. It was good to see him unload on that.

In honor of that, and the upcoming draft, I thought I’d point out a little tidbit that Peter Gammons came up with:

From the institution of the draft in 1965 through 2001, there were 21 catchers taken at the top of the draft — meaning within the first five picks of the first round. Steve Chilcott was the first, taken with the first overall pick in 1966 by the Mets, one place in front of Reggie Jackson, by the Kansas City Athletics. Chilcott hurt his shoulder in Double-A and never made it to the major leagues.

Of those 21 catchers picked in the first five selections, five caught 2,000 games in the big leagues: Thurman Munson, Darrell Porter, John Stearns, Mike Lieberthal and Joe Mauer.

For all the people complaining that Mauer doesn’t play enough games and is weak — I’m looking at you, Torii Hunter — that list must be a little suprising. Standout catchers are rare in this game, and getting them at the top of the draft is even rarer.

Granted, the draft is a crapshoot and Mauer literally fell into the Twins’ lap. But they still made the right pick with Mauer in 2001, and it has worked out really well so far. And now he’s on pace for three home runs this year!

(By the way, the only other catcher taken in the first round who currently plays is Jason Varitek. Originally drafted by the Twins, but showed his douchy Boston-like tendencies by refusing to sign. Maybe the Twins know what they’re doing?)

*** EDIT ***

Upon further review, it turns out that none of the catchers Gammons listed have caught 2000 games in the majors. No wonder that list seemed so surprising.

Games played as a catcher, career:

  • Porter: 1506
  • Munson: 1278
  • Lieberthal: 1170
  • Stearns: 699
  • Mauer: 409
At this point, I have no idea what Gammons was thinking. It couldn’t be 2000 games combined, because they’ve combined for over 5000 innings (and that doesn’t make any sense at all, really). It couldn’t be 2000 innings, because even though Mauer has caught 3500 innings in his career, that just doesn’t seem like very many and I don’t believe it.

I clearly shouldn’t have posted this without checking Gammons’ work. My bad. Damn ESPN. What am I paying you for? (I think it’s especially bad that this was an Insider article, so I actually paid to read this lie from Gammons.)

*** END EDIT ***